Rockets former player Tracy McGrady recently spoke on Tom Thibodeau overworking Yao Ming
Yao Ming’s career with the Houston Rockets was short-lived but memorable in so many ways. Not only was Yao a great player, but he was a global icon in his homeland of China, expanding the brand of not just the Rockets, but the entire NBA.
While the relationship between China, the Rockets, and the NBA has been put through the wringer over the last year or so, a decade-plus of strong revenue and interest from fans in China is in large part due to Yao’s presence on the Rockets.
Unfortunately, Yao’s most advantageous attribute — his massive 7-foot-6 frame — would also be his downfall. The big man faced foot injuries on the tail-end of his career that he was never able to quite come back from.
Yao missed the entire 2009-10 season due to a foot injury and only played five games the following year following further stress fractures. He would retire that summer.
Yao’s injuries were not a major shock, but still disappointing for the Rockets.
Having him to go to in the paint was a massive advantage when his shots were falling, as there weren’t many players who could figure out how to guard him at a high level and dissuade his attempts. His length and size allowed him to corral rebounds at a high rate as well.
He averaged 19.0 points and 9.2 rebounds per game throughout his career.
At 7-6, Ming towered over the tallest of humans. He was just unreal physically, and no slouch in terms of fundamental skills, either.
Foot injuries are common for extremely tall centers, as the weight of their frame can have a depressing force on the foundation and base of the body. Add to that the rigors all NBA athletes face night in and night out, and the fact that Yao was playing upwards of 33 minutes per game at his peak, and it’s easy to see why the injuries became tough to manage for Houston.
Tracy McGrady recently had some interesting comments on Yao, though, and brought up another factor that may have played into the decline of his physical abilities — an assistant head coach.
Tracy McGrady says Rockets asst. coach Tom Thibodeau was “killing” Yao Ming
Speaking to Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson of the All The Smoke Podcast, Tracy McGrady reflected on his time in Houston. When asked about Yao Ming, McGrady had lots of praise for Yao and how skilled he was, but not before pointing out that he was worked extremely hard by the coaching staff, in particular Tom Thibodeau, who was an assistant coach in Houston.
“Bro, he was extremely skilled. Like I said, left hand, right hand. I felt sorry for him at times, because Thibodeau had Yao working so da– hard before every game man, I’m like, ‘bro, he gon’ wear down man,’ like he was killing Yao before the game. He was putting in that work!”
The reputation of overworking players has followed Thibodeau throughout his career. Chicago Bulls fans can’t contest that he overworked Joakim Noah. He red-lined Jimmy Butler when with the Minnesota Timberwolves, playing him above 40 minutes twice in the 2018-19 season when he suited up for the T’Wolves less than 15 times before being traded to the Philadelphia 76ers.
It’s unfair to say Thibodeau is responsible for Derrick Rose’s injury, but when you consider the reputation that follows him for asking too much physically of his star players, one can see why some fans connect the dots between Rose’s career-altering injuries and Thibodeau’s demands.
There were many factors at play with Yao and his career-ending injuries. Chief among those was probably his freakishly tall frame and the likelihood that someone of his size has foundational foot issues throughout their life.
That, compounded with overworking from the coaching staff, though, can speed up the timeline of those injuries, and it’s not inconceivable that Thibodeau may have had a negative impact on the rate at which Yao’s health deteriorated.
If someone like McGrady even noticed it was too much, it was probably pretty intense.
That said, Thibodeau is still frequently mentioned in rumors to potentially become the team’s next head coach, should they be unable to come to an extension agreement with Mike D’Antoni, whose contract expires after this year.